Land Ownership from an Aboriginal Perspective
The concept of land ownership was completely alien to the Native peoples. From an Aboriginal cultural and spiritual perspective, land cannot be bought or sold. They saw themselves as the spiritual guardians of the land, not its actual owners. Land was considered a gift from the Creator or Great Spirit, and its resources were to be used for survival purposes only.
Thus, the concept of 'surrendering' land was one that caused great confusion within Aboriginal communities, and may have contributed to further injustices against the Aboriginals - notably, the signings of the Upper Canada and other treaties. This Aboriginal view of land ownership is one of the roots to many Aboriginal rights and land issues today.
Manitoba Wildlands has set up a page about Idle No More to give our audiences access to links, news coverage, videos, blogs, reports and publications about this new movement for social justice and democracy across Canada and the world.
View Manitoba Wildlands Idle No More page
As one scholar noted, "There can be no answer to the question 'what are Aboriginal rights?' that is not in the terms of the dominant, non-Native society...any answer to the question 'what are Aboriginal rights?' is already an attempt to confine, constrain, demarcate and delimit those rights and consequently part of the process of confining, constraining, demarcating and delimiting Aboriginal peoples."
Aboriginal rights need to also be considered in the context of the patchwork process of colonization, and the relationship that has developed between the Crown and Aboriginal people from the earliest treaties to present government policies. Many would argue that Aboriginal rights can be traced in law directly to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and arguably, to the earliest treaties and the principles of British common law. Recent interpretations of Aboriginal Rights by the Supreme Court hold that the Crown, in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples, has accepted that they "would retain their lands, as well as their political and cultural institutions and customary laws, unless the terms of treaties ruled this out or legislation was enacted to the contrary". Furthermore, the Crown has "assumed a general obligation to protect Aboriginal peoples and their lands and generally look out for their best interests, in what the judges have described as a fiduciary or trust-like obligation".
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada describes Aboriginal rights as:
Rights that some Aboriginal peoples of Canada hold as a result of their ancestors' longstanding use and occupancy of the land. The rights of certain Aboriginal peoples to hunt, trap and fish on ancestral lands are examples of Aboriginal rights. Aboriginal rights will vary from group to group depending on the customs, practices and traditions that have formed part of their distinctive cultures.
Source: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Chief Norman Bone, co-chair of the Treaty 2 First Nations known collectively as Anishinaabe Agawidiiwinan, has served notice to the Honourable Gord Mackintosh that they regard pending provincial government decisions regarding new peat mines as having strong potential for serious negative impacts on the rights and of the First Nations.
"We believe it is incumbent upon the Government to abstain from any decisions that would result in the issuing of any peat licenses until such time as its constitutionally mandated duties have been fulfilled," said Chief Bone.
Canadians are increasingly aware of the severe environmental issues associated with peat. For centuries peat was used as a source of fuel, and in modern times it is commonly used as a growing medium in gardening. Environment scientists are warning, however, that peat mining is an incredibly destructive and unnecessary industry.
Also the entire watershed of the Little Saskatchewan River is within the boundaries of Treaty No. 2 in which the First Nations agreed to share their lands for purposes of "immigration and settlement."
On July 5, 2012 the Government of Manitoba issued Environment Act License No. 3010 to the "Daly Irrigation Development Group" for the construction and operation of an irrigation system in the Rural Municipality of Daly.
Chief Norman Bone therefore also served notice to Gord Mackintosh that they regard the provincial government's decision to issue a license to the Daly Irrigation Development Groups as having strong potential for serious negative impact on the rights and interests of First Nations.
"We believe it is incumbent upon the Government to stay the license until such time as its duties have been fulfilled," Chief Bone said in the Treaty 2 notice.
The river's fragile ecosystem provides critical habitat for several endangered and at-risk species.
View July 27, 2012 Treaty Two Press Release on Peat Mines (PDF)
View July 27, 2012 Treaty Two Press Release on Little Saskatchewan Irrigation (PDF)
Source: Treaty Two
Manitoba will be posting recent research essays about Aboriginal Peoples in our country. We are posting here with permission
"A Brief History of Effects of Colonialism on First Nations in Canada" by Tony Oliver, a student at Simon Fraser University.
When the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) September 13, 2007 only 4 countries (New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada) opposed the Declaration citing concerns that it conflicted with their countries' own laws.
More than three years later, Canada has changed positions and offered conditional "support" for UNDRIP. "The Declaration is an aspirational document which ...is a non-legally binding document that does not reflect customary international law nor change Canadian laws," declares the Canadian Government's letter of support.
Canada's Assembly of First Nations noted: "...exception to the statement that the UNDRIP does not reflect customary international law", but added, "[w]hile this in itself doesn't address our urgent needs, it does say that Canada is listening and that Canada is willing to work with us to achieve the standards set out in the UNDRIP."
"Now is our time to work together towards a new era of fairness and justice for First Nations and a stronger Canada for all Canadians, guided by the Declaration's core principles of respect, partnership and reconciliation," stated National Chief Shawn Atleo.
"Canadians need to understand that the purpose of instruments like the declaration is to encourage governments to change policies and laws that are discriminatory or that fail to uphold and fulfill the human rights protections guaranteed to Aboriginal Peoples," said National Inuit Leader Mary Simon.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a non-binding document, recognizes indigenous people's basic human rights and rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among other rights. Since the 2007 vote, New Zealand and Australia have since endorsed the declaration. The United States - the only country now left to not endorse the declaration - is reviewing its decision.
View November 12, 2010 Government of Canada article
View November 12, 2010 Government of Canada news release
View November 12, 2010 United Nations news release
View November 12, 2010 CBC News article
View November 12, 2010 Toronto Sun article
View November 12, 2010 Rabble.ca article
View September 18, 2007, May 12, 2010, September 29, 2010 Manitoba Wildlands news item
View United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
View United Nations information website
Download November 12, 2010 Assembly of First Nations news release (PDF)
Download November 12, 2010 Assembly of First Nations backgrounder (PDF)
Download November 13, 2010 Four Arrows summary (PDF)
Sources: Government of Canada, Assembly of Chiefs, United Nations
The second attempt by Taseko Mines to obtain required environmental licenses for the "New Prosperity Mine", which once again threatens Fish Lake in British Columbia's interior, continues to attract public controversy.
Taseko's first proposal was rejected November 2, 2010 by then Environmental Affairs Minister Jim Prentice. Public and First Nations concerns over impacts of mining operations on Fish Lake continue. A federal review panel found the proposed mine would cause irreparable damage to both First Nations rights and the environment, including to fish stocks and grizzly populations. The company submitted a revised proposal August 9, 2011, which was accepted by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency November 7, 2011.
Taseko's revised project avoids draining picturesque Fish Lake, home to 80,000 rainbow trout. Instead of the original proposal to drain the lake, the lake would be surrounded by the proposed open-pit mine, unusable for the life of the mine (up to 33 years). The company admits this would essentially destroy the lake due to leaching from mine waste.
"There is something seriously wrong with our assessment process when a company like Taseko can simply re-submit a mining proposal after it has been soundly rejected. It would be a far better use of time and money to focus on mining proposals that are more environmentally appropriate, and have support of First Nations," said Sierra Club BC Executive Director George Heyman.
Nearby Tsilqhot'in First Nation was granted a court injunction to stop Taseko from undertaking exploratory work December 2011. The band wanted the court to keep the mining firm out of its territory, until the B.C. Appeal Court rules on the band's case involving aboriginal title. After several community meetings, the Tsilhqot'in Nation agreed to stop fighting and litigating against Taseko on test drills, while keeping its eye on the real goal, which is to make sure the mine itself never gets built.
"This was not a decision we made lightly," said Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet'in, a community in the Tsilhqot'in National Government, "But as a Nation, we've made a decision to focus our energies on the real battle of defeating this project, full-stop."
Taseko Mines filed a Notice of Civil Claim against the Western Canada Wilderness Committee March 1st, accusing the Wilderness Committee and its outreach director Sven Biggs for "a series of false and defamatory statements concerning Taseko and its proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project."
The Wilderness Committee has vowed to fight the civil claim.
"This ill-conceived mine proposal should be turned down once and for all. That's our view and we're standing by it. We believe this court action stifles fair comment about Taseko's environmentally risky mine proposal. People should be able to enjoy full participation in the Federal Environmental Review process, including the right to comment – without fear of time-consuming and costly litigation," said Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee.
View March 2, 2012 Indian Country Today article
View March 2, 2012 Williams Lake Tribune coverage
View March 2, 2012 CTV coverage
View February 29, 2012 Tsilhqot'in First Nation Press Release
View February 16, 2012 Sierra Club BC coverage
View November 7, 2011 Sierra Club BC press release
View October 28, 2011 Manitoba Wildlands news item
Sources: Sierra Club of BC, Williams Lake Tribune, Indian Country Today
The Tsilhoquo'in First Nation has been granted an injunction preventing Taseko Mines from working around its proposed gold and copper mine near Williams Lake, British Columbia. All Tsilhqot'in First Nations support the legal action for an injunction. The Canadian federal government recently ordered a new environmental assessment for the second mine proposal. The federal government did not approve the first mine proposal.
The injunction prevents Taseko employees from conducting exploration work, which had been permitted by the BC government.
Tsilhoquo'in Chief Marilyn Baptiste says the latest mine proposal will be even worse on the environment than the first proposal. "Little Fish Lake as well as Upper Fish Creek will be destroyed. And Lower Fish Creek will be destroyed by their pit," argues Baptiste.
BC Supreme Court judge Christopher Grauer has ruled the First Nation was not properly consulted on two permits granted to Taseko by the provincial government. The injunction will be in force until the First Nation can launch a judicial review over the provincial government permits.
Jay Nelson, the band's lawyer indicated, "I think it's the right decision. It gives everybody some space now to try to get the consultation process right for these approvals, so it gives the Crown a chance to come back and do its job properly."
Watch First Nations Stand Their Ground Against Prosperity Mine at BC Supreme Court
View December 2, 2011, CTV News article
View December 2, 2011, The Prince George Citizen article
View Protect Fish Lake website
View December 2, 2011, Tsilhqot'in National Government release
Source: CTV News
The Government of Canada denied federal authorizations for of Taseko Mines Ltd. to proceed with the Prosperity Mine Project, November 2, 2010. "The significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed," said Environment Minister, Jim Prentice.
Taseko Mines Ltd. planned to drain Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) in central British Columbia (B.C.) to access gold and copper deposits and make room for a toxic tailings pond. A Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) panel report found that creation of the mine and destruction of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) would impose irreversible harm to the environment, fish and wildlife and on First Nations rights, lives, culture and spirituality. The proposed Prosperity open-pit mine is on the traditional lands of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation, a member of the Tsilhqot'in National Government.
"We were very pleased to see many of our concerns about this project reflected in the Panel Report," commented Ramsey Hart of Mining Watch Canada, "We are even more pleased to see the government respect those findings and reject the project."
"Now we must close the legislative loophole that allows destruction of Canada's freshwater bodies for toxic mine tailings," said Sierra Club B.C. Executive Director George Heyman, referring to changes made to Canada's Fisheries Act which allow metal mining corporations to use Canadian lakes to dispose of millions of tonnes of toxic waste rock and tailings. Fish Lake would have been Canada's fifth pristine natural water body authorized for as a tailing pond.
First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM) founding member Chief Marilyn Baptise and her fellow Tsilhqot'in National Government chiefs intend to follow up their recent victory saving Fish Lake with a court appeal to establish their Title and Right.
Takla Lake First Nation Chief Dolly Abraham explained, "before we can start to deal with individual proposals effectively we need Land Use Plans that clearly state where mining - and other resource extraction - can be pursued, and where it cannot - and this must take into account the accumulative effects of all projects on the environment."
View November 2, 2010 Environment Canada news release
View November 2, 2010 Sierra Club of B.C. news release
View November 3, 2010 Mining Watch Canada news release
View November 2, 2010 CBC News article
View November 3, 2010 Maple Ridge News article
View November 9, 2010 FNWARM press release
View September 22, 2010 Manitoba Wildlands news item
View April 7, 2010 Manitoba Wildlands news item
Source: Environment Canada, Sierra Club of B.C., Mining Watch Canada, FNWARM
National, regional and affected local BC First Nations have sent a clear message to the federal government - the proposed Prosperity mine in British Columbia (B.C.) cannot be allowed to proceed.
Taseko Mines Ltd. plans to drain Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) in central B.C. to access gold and copper deposits and make room for a waste rock dump and toxic tailings pond. The proposed Prosperity open-pit mine is on the traditional lands of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation, a member of the Tsilhqot'in National Government.
Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG) is joined by the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and BC First Nations, in addition to 12 environmental organizations from across Canada, in speaking out against the proposed mine.
"There are no options open to the federal Government - it must respect the findings of significant and irreparable harm to the environment and First Nations rights and culture that were delivered in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's (CEAA) review Panel Report 2010," said Chief Marilyn Baptiste, of Xeni Gwet'in.
The CEAA panel report found that creation of the mine and destruction of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) would impose irreversible harm to the environment, fish and wildlife and on First Nations rights, lives, culture and spirituality. It also found the proposal does not meet standards required under federal fisheries and navigable waters Act and that the proposed mitigation measures would not address environmental harm caused by the mine.
Under terms of reference for the CEAA panel review, the federal government is to deliver a decision on the mine in September, 2010.
Taseko Mines Ltd. has been assuring investors that the mine will proceed and that approval will be granted rapidly. This has raised concerns that the company seems to have no question that its mine will be approved.
The TNG wrote Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice in June 2010 specifically requesting assurances that the government had not predetermined the mine would go ahead regardless of the CEAA panel review findings. To date, the TNG has not been granted any meetings with the Minister.
Visit Tsilhqot'in First Nations website
Visit Protect Fish Lake website
View September 2, 2010 Union of BC Indian Chiefs press release
View September 2, 2010 Canadian News Wire article
View September 2, 2010 Sierra Club press release
View September 2, 2010 CBC News article
View September 2, 2010 Globe and Mail article
View September 3, 2010 Indigenous Peoples article
View September 8, 2010 Aboriginal Peoples Television Network article and video
View September 9, 2010 Council of Canadians article
View September 16, 2010 Globe and Mail article
Watch September 16 2010, Video Of Xeni Gwit'in Elder On Protecting Fish Lake
View September 20, 2010 Aboriginal Peoples Television Network article
Source: Indigenous Peoples, CBC, Sierra Club, Globe and Mail
The Manitoba government apologized for its role in the forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene in the 1950s. The apology was made at a ceremony in Churchill August 3rd, 2010 by Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson to Sayisi Dene Chief Jimmy Thorassie and Churchill Mayor Michael Spence.
The relocation, now considered an abject failure, saw hundreds of people moved to Churchill from their traditional homes in northern Manitoba.
In a release, the province states the decision to relocate the Dene community at Duck Lake prior to 1956 was in part due to Manitoba wildlife officials who stated the traditional hunting practices of the Dene contributed to a perceived decline of area caribou herds.
After relocation, it was determined the caribou herd the Sayisi Dene had relied upon for generations was in fact healthy.
In less than two decades, nearly one-third of the Sayisi Dene died as a result of illness, violence, poverty and racism experienced on the outskirts of Churchill. The forced relocation of the Sayisi Dene was documented in the reports of the Manitoba's 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and Canada's 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. An apology and compensation were recommended
"This is an important step on the path to reconciliation and healing," says Chief Thorassie. "We have a responsibility to work together to build the future we want for our children despite a legacy of hurt born of past government mistakes."
Manitoba has proposed to provide more than 13,000 acres of Crown land, separate from any treaty land entitlement, to help address the effects of relocation. The Sayisi Dene were moved to Tadoule Lake in 1973 at the request of community.
View August 3, 2010 Government of Manitoba press release
View August 3, 2010 Winnipeg Free Press article
View August 4, 2010 Winnipeg Free Press article
View August 3, 2010 CBC News article
Source: Winnipeg Free Press, Government of Manitoba
In 1971 the Manitoban Indian Brotherhood (made up of the Dene, Dakota, Cree, and Ojibway Nations) developed and signed the declaration WAHBUNG: Our Tomorrow. This declaration shows First Nations [Manitoba] in a united front. Wahbung provides positions and recommendations on policy issues along with a historical analysis of political, economic and social issues facing First Nations. This declaration was largely in response to the controversial 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy from Canada's federal government.
Download October 1971 report WAHBUNG: Our Tomorrow (PDF)
View Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Preface for WAHBUNG: Our Tomorrow
Sources: Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
Aboriginal Water Rights
View Manitoba Wildlands' Water pages section on Aboriginal Water Rights
Aboriginal title is based on an Aboriginal group's traditional use and occupancy of that land. It is a sui generis [unique] right in land. It is inalienable, except to the Crown and has its legal source in prior occupation of the land. Aboriginal title is held communally, not by any one member of an Aboriginal Nation. Although Aboriginal title is a right in land, and not tied to any particular 'Aboriginal use', there is an inherent limit on the possible uses that can be made of the land. For instance, if a group claims a special bond with the land because of its ceremonial or cultural significance, it may not use the land in such a way as to destroy that relationship.
If there is to be an infringement on Aboriginal title the government must recognize its fiduciary relationship with Aboriginal people, and ensure that there is as little infringement as possible, that fair compensation is made available and that the Aboriginal group has been consulted.
In 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada first recognized land rights based on Aboriginal title.
, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada describes Aboriginal title as:
A legal term that recognizes Aboriginal interest in the land. It is based on their longstanding use and occupancy of the land as descendants of the original inhabitants of Canada.
Source: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada